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Competing with a Corpse

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Not an actual ghost love... we think.
"Superpowers, a scintillating wit, and the best body money can buy... And I still rate below a corpse."

A situation where one point in a Love Triangle has already died, but the remaining "competitor" still feels the presence of the deceased as an obstacle in their relationship. Likely to involve Present Absence.

This trope is closely tied to The Lost Lenore, often involving Excessive Mourning. The Mourning After is when a character refuses to move on after the death of a love interest, and if a new love interest does appear, they will very much be in this position. The situation may be further complicated by guilt if the character Let Gwen Stacy Die. This may lead to the revelation that they were only Loving a Shadow if they come to realize the deceased wasn't as perfect as their memory portrayed them or that they were more in love with the idea of the person.

Compare Her Heart Will Go On, where someone does move on from the loss. This will likely be part of a Romancing the Widow plot.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Scarlet O'Hara complains about this in Freezing with Gengo Aoi still being hung up on his deceased wife Maria. But given a twist when it turns out Maria isn't actually dead, just kept suspended in a tube.
  • In Maison Ikkoku, after Yusaku develops a crush on his new landlady, Kyoko, he quickly finds out she is not interested in not only him, but getting into a serious relationship at all because she's still mourning the death of her husband, and first love, Soichiro, who passed away years before the story takes place.
  • Both Naoko and Ritsuko Akagi were acutely aware of how Gendo was still in love with his wife Yui in Neon Genesis Evangelion, to the point that Naoko hallucinated Yui's face over the young Rei's as she parroted negative comments Gendo made about her, and Naoko wound up strangling the child to death.
  • One Oishinbo chapter features a friend of Yuko's who is in love with the Gyoza Shop owner she's working with. Unfortunately, the man is still too hung up on his deceased wife to notice the woman's crush on him. At one point, the friend cries to Yuko about how she cannot win because her rival is a ghost. The man eventually moves on from his wife's death and marries her, however.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin Kaoru comes to view Kenshin's first wife Tomoe this way when she realizes her death is still affecting him. It's only at the end of the manga that Kenshin is finally able to move on so they can be together.
  • In Sing "Yesterday" for Me, a focus of the story is the love triangle between Rikuo and Rou for the affections of Shinako, but it's really actually a rivalry between the two of them and Rou's dead brother, who was Shinako's high school crush. Shinako is still not over her crush's death five years later, and her complicated feelings toward Rou stem from seeing him as a Replacement Goldfish for her dead love.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • In Alysanne, Lady of Winterfell, Alaric Stark marries Alysanne a year after her husband Jaehaerys dies of the Shivers. He often feels either angry at how she still clings to Jaehaerys's memory, or resigned that he would never be able to measure up to Jaehaerys in her eyes.
  • Doing It Right This Time: Lampshaded by Ritsuko, who has finally been forced to confront everything wrong with her relationship with Gendo. And then subsequently subverted when they get confirmation that Yui is Only Mostly Dead.
    "I did everything he asked, I did things that violated every principle I thought I believed in, and he still wouldn't leave his wife for me. Which I could deal with if she hadn't been dead for ten years."
  • Not the intended use (Zantetsuken Reverse): In the original fic, it's revealed that Leon's second wife abandoned him because "he cared about that whip more than he cared about her", with the whip in question containing the soul of his deceased betrothed, Sara. Leon admits that she was spot on with her accusation.
  • Defied in Two Sides of a Coin. After the funeral for Eleya's ex-fiance Jerrod Dalton, her current lover Gaarra asks her if he should sleep in his own quarters for a while. Her only response is to Security Cling to him, and Gaarra murmurs, "I guess not."

  • The Dig (2018): Roberta expresses that she feels this way given that it's been years since Namih disappeared and Ronan still clearly loves her more than he ever did Roberta.
  • Implied in John Wick: Chapter 2. Gianna D'Antonio speaks to John in tones almost like a pining ex-lover when he arrives to assassinate her, and asks for the name of "this woman whose life has ended my own" in reference to John's deceased wife Helen (the destruction of keepsakes from her having started this whole mess).
  • In the film Stanley & Iris, part of the difficulty in the blossoming romance between the title characters is the fact that the widowed Iris is still grieving for her late husband. The first time she and Stanley are intimate, she cries, prompting him to comment that "three people in one bed is too much."

  • Edgar Allan Poe:
    • In Ligeia, the eponymous character (apparently) comes back from the dead to take the place of her husband's second wife.
    • Defied in Eleonora, where the eponymous character takes the attitude of I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, even though her husband has previously vowed never to remarry after her death. Her spirit appears to him in a vision soon after his second wedding and tells him he is absolved of the sin of breaking his word.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Part of the reason why Harry's relationship with Cho didn't work out was that Cho was constantly mourning the death of her previous boyfriend Cedric and Harry didn't like to discuss it. An added complication is that Harry saw Cedric die in the previous book and feels responsible; he doesn't want to keep re-living his trauma, but Cho's way of coping with it is to keep trying to talk about Cedric with Harry.
  • In Rebecca, the naive second wife arrives at the gloomy mansion house at Manderley to realise everyone, including her husband, is comparing her to the deceased first wife - and she is coming off worse. Notably, when she finds out that her husband actually despised Rebecca to the point she was able to provoke him into killing her, the narrator is more relieved that her husband loves her more than Rebecca.
  • Endo and Kobayashi Live!: Leon's main obstacle in getting Elizabeth is the latter still sees herself married to August, who was dead for 16 years at the time of the story.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • This was a major factor in the breakdown of Robert and Cersei's marriage, and Cersei bitterly comments that even with a live girl in his bed Robert was so fixated on his deceased fiancee Lyanna Stark that he accidentally called Cersei by her name on their wedding night.
      Cersei: The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister's name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered Lyanna.
      Ned: I do not know which of you I pity most.
    • Catelyn Stark fears that she is competing with her husband Ned's previous lover, Jon Snow's unnamed mother, which is not helped by Ned's abject refusal to reveal anything about the woman. To a lesser extent she feels the shadow of Brandon Stark, Ned's older brother, hanging over them since she was originally supposed to marry him prior to his death, but it's not clear if Ned himself feels this way.
  • In the Warrior Cats book Firestar's Quest, Sandstorm realizes that Firestar still has strong feelings for the deceased medicine cat Spottedleaf and feels like she can't compete, that she's just his second choice. Spottedleaf appears to Firestar and Sandstorm and confirms that Firestar does truly love Sandstorm, and eventually the two have kits together. Meanwhile, the short story Spottedleaf's Honest Answer shows how Spottedleaf felt about the whole thing after her death: she was jealous of Sandstorm to an extent but more than that she wanted Firestar to be happy, and was glad that Sandstorm was there for him since Spottedleaf herself couldn't be.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of El ChapulĂ­n Colorado, where a married couple are constantly arguing by the fact the woman still seems to pine for her deceased first husband (even having a Wrong-Name Outburst at one point) and constantly compares her current husband to him.
  • In Forever (2014) there is a bit of this on both sides where Jo and Henry are concerned. Henry is still deeply in love with Abigail, who disappeared in 1985, and Jo with her husband Sean, who died less than a year before the series started.
  • Game of Thrones: When Ned asks Cersei why she hates her husband so much, Cersei says she loved him when they first got married, but the seeds of resentment were planted when during the consummation he drunkenly called Cersei "Lyanna", the name of his deceased betrothed; Robert only agreed to marry Cersei following Lyanna's death to solidify his rule by allying with Cersei's father. Over the years, Cersei realised that no matter what she did, she would never equal Lyanna in Robert's eyes, with Robert telling her as much during a rare moment of emotional vulnerability and openess between them. While there were definitely other contributing factors to their Awful Wedded Life, Robert's inability to move past Lyanna's death and Cersei's bitterness over this was the starting point. Their marriage is in such a poor state by the present day that Cersei thinks little of arranging Robert's death.
  • House of the Dragon: King Viserys, feeling pressured into remarrying after his wife's death, makes the short-sighted decision to marry Alicent Hightower. Their relationship is strained by numerous factors (the age difference, the fact that Alicent was pushed into it by her ambitious father, the loss of Alicent's friendship with Viserys' daughter Rhaenyra as a result, Viserys and Alicent's sons becoming a threat to Rhaenyra's claim, etc.) but perhaps chief among them is Viserys still being hung up on his wife Aemma (not helped by the fact that he bears some responsibility for her death). This bleeds into his treatment of his children with Alicent, favoring Rhaenyra as the child of his beloved deceased wife. Tellingly, he at one point calls Alicent "Aemma".
  • Nikita: Nikita and Michael have had a longstanding Unresolved Sexual Tension since their days working together at Division, but the first time they almost consummated it, he stopped because he couldn't "move forward" until he avenged his wife and daughter by killing Kasim Tariq. Tariq turns out to be a renegade Division agent who killed Michael's family by accident (the bomb was meant for Michael himself, to build a cover to infiltrate al-Qa'ida), and after Nikita kills him, they become an Official Couple.
  • In Peep Show, Mark feels that he is in this situation after Gerrard, who is his rival for Dobby's affections, dies of the flu.
  • In The Republic of Sarah, the titular history teacher-turned-President has been pining for her friend Grover for years. Unfortunately for her, Grover is still mourning the loss of her first wife.
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Spartacus begins a romance with Mira some time after his wife Sura dies, but he still mourns deeply for Sura. Although he cares for Mira, their relationship lacks the emotional intimacy she craves and he never tells her he loves her, much to her sadness and frustration. This eventually leads to them breaking up late in Vengeance because they both realize Mira can never be what Sura was to Spartacus; they're surprisingly amicable about it though after the initial bust-up.

  • O-Town's "All or Nothing" is either this or a Present Absence The First Cut Is the Deepest, but the wording in the second half of the first verse leans heavily in this direction.
    It's not the way I choose to live
    And something, somewhere's, got to give
    As sharing this relationship
    Gets older, older
    You know I'd fight for you
    But how can I fight someone who isn't even there?
    I've had the rest of you
    Now I want the best of you
    I don't care if that's not fair...

  • Combined with Love Ruins the Realm and All Love Is Unrequited in the French play Andromaque . A popular way among French to sum up the drama is "Oreste loves Hermione, who loves Pyrrhus, who loves Andromaque, who loves Hector, who is dead.": Pyrrhus (the son of Achilles) is in love with Hector's widow Andromaque and wants to marry her. Andromaque understandably wants nothing to do with the man whose father killed her husband, only to live in peace with her and Hector's son Astynyax (not to mention that Pyrrhus is merely the son of the greatest Greek warrior, while Andromaque was married to the greatest Trojan warrior). Meanwhile, Pyrrhus courting Andromaque causes further problems because a) he's neglecting his Arranged Marriage with Hermione (herself courted by Orestes), and b) he refuses to kill Astynyax (who is still a child) as the other Greek kings are demanding. This leads to Pyrrhus marrying Andromaque but being murdered by Orestes just after, Hermione going mad with grief at the murder she asked Orestes to commit, and Orestes fleeing the country.

    Video Games 
  • Downplayed in Dragon Age: Origins, in that there is sex but no romance. Morrigan can perform a magic sex ritual with a male member of the Grey Wardens: a male Player Character, Alistair, or Loghain. If she goes with the spoilered character, they have an exchange where he needs to close his eyes and pretend she's his dead wife, and she snarks that he finds a corpse more attractive than her.
  • Tales of Legendia: Shirley Fennes and her elder sister Stella were both in love with Senel Coolidge. Sometime before the events of the story, Stella was victorious but wound up sacrificing her life to try and protect Shirley. Both Senel and Shirley are devastated by her loss, but Shirley still has lingering feelings for Senel, which she cannot help but try to act upon. Later, it turns out that Stella wasn't quite dead after all, but she still winds up dying for real afterward, reopening wounds that had only just begun healing. In the later portion of the game, Shirley can't hold back anymore and openly declares her love for Senel, and he rejects her as he still pines for Stella. This rejection in favor of her dead sister, in addition to the murder of her best friend Fenimore by soldiers looking to kill her, causes Shirley to snap and awaken her latent Merines powers, setting off a chain of events that would wipe out mankind. Shirley, blinded by jealousy, rage, and grief just no longer cares what happens until finally brought back to her senses by Senel, who apologizes and is more receptive to her feelings, although he admits it will still take time.

    Web Video 
  • Nightmare Time: The Hatchetfield saga always has shades of this with Tom grieving for his wife Jane but also still having feelings for his First Love Becky, but it gets very literal in the episode "Jane's a Car," set about eighteen months after Jane dies. Tom has started to move on from his loss and begins dating Becky, even introducing her to his son... and then discovers Jane's spirit is possessing the car in which she died. And she is not happy to learn Tom's getting on with his life without her. She quickly slides from Clingy Jealous Girl to something much worse.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons. When Ned Flanders starts dating again after the death of his wife Maude, his new girlfriend Rachel is acutely aware of how much he still pines for Maude, to the point of her imprint on the bed still being there and him trying to style her hair like Maude's while she sleeps. At the end of the episode when she helps him remove the imprint on the bed, it's a major step towards him moving on.